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San Francisco Ballet - Program 1 Review: Serenade, RakU and Lambarena

by Joanna G. Harris
January 27, 2014
War Memorial Opera House
301 Van Ness Avenue at Grove Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 861-5600
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
It is a continual celebration when the San Francisco Ballet starts a new season. Beyond the fashions and patrons conspicuous after the Gala, the real news is, and should be, the dancers and the dance.

Very appropriately Program 1 opened with Balanchine's "Serenade," the 1934 work made for the School of American Ballet in its earliest days. Balanchine has been quoted as saying that it is a work in which ballerinas learn to dance. The work has been in the SFB repertory since 1952.

The ballet started with a series of gestures. Gestures that are the basic "épaulment" of ballet study; the carriage of head and neck. Then, in unison, 17 women, turned out their feet.

A series of wonderful patterns followed, filling the stage with shapes and designs. Changes of groupings, patterns of movement in canon and individual entrances and exits followed. There are four movements in Tchaikovsky's "Serenade in C Major, Opus 48,: Sonatina: Valse: Élégie: Finale.

The ballet has no narrative, though there was drama: a woman falls; a man whose eyes are covered picks her up and there is much exchange between them and other dancers. Ultimately, the central female figure is carried off stage, standing erect on the hands of four men. The principals, Frances Chung, Mathilde Froustey, Maria Kochetkova, Vitor Luiz and Joseph Walsh danced exquisitely as did the corps for the most part. A bit more style is needed.

"RakU," a 2011 work by resident choreographer Yuri Possokhov was premiered at SFB in 2011. Inspired by a short story by Gary Wong, it was a dramatic work featuring the ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan, Carlos Quenedit and Pascal Molat, set to music by Shinji Eshima. The events in "RakU" recall the burning of Kyoto's Golden Pavilion in 1950.

Using brilliant set designs and theatrical effects, by Alexander V. Nichols and Christopher Dennis, Ms. Tan portrayed a royal figure, abandoned by her husband, seduced by his enemy and crawling to her death surrounded by returning warriors, mourning her loss and betrayal. She fulfills this part, made for her, with grand gestures and technical virtuosity. Qenedit and Molat, as well as the four warriors, Gaetano Amico, Steven Morse, Sean Orza and Myles Thatcher are gorgeous in their male power and projection. "RakU" received a standing ovation. I find the work over melodramatic and having seen it at its premiere, found it not to my liking.

"Lambrena," which combines music by Bach and traditional African chants and drumming, was also premiered by SFB in 1995. We remember the exciting performance by retired ballerina Evelyn Cisneros and the beautiful costumes by Sandra Woodall. The costumes are still there, but somehow even the usually brilliant Lorena Feijoo failed to make this ballet shine. The energy got lost is the stage space and a lack of truly exciting African style. Dancing with Feijoo were Kimbery Braylock, Ellen Rose Hummel, Daniel Deivision –Oliveira, Joseph Walsh and Wei Wang. It was the second work on the program by choreographer Val Caniparoli. I hope it will fulfill its early excitement in future performances.

Program 1 will be offered again on future dates until February 7.
SF Ballet in Balanchine's 'Serenade.'

SF Ballet in Balanchine's "Serenade."

Photo © & courtesy of Erik Tomasson

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